Jessica Rey found success as the White Power Ranger on the popular kids show “Disney’s Power Rangers: Wild Force.” Though she continues her acting work, she’s also started traveling around the country to give talks about chastity and modesty. She presents the topics in a way that’s appealing for youth who want to be in touch with popular culture, but also want to transform it into something better. Jessica recently joined me on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) to talk about her work. Here are some excerpts:
TR: Your recent focus has been on giving talks to young people about chastity and modesty. What made you start doing that?
Jessica Rey: I despise public speaking, and I know it’s so strange because I’m an actress. But there’s a difference. When you’re acting, it’s somebody else’s words and you’re playing another character. But when you give talks, it’s you yourself…so it is quite frightening. I didn’t want to do it. A lot of my priest friends kept asking me to do it, and I kept saying, “No, no.”
One day my friends went to this Christmas party and I was sick. At the Christmas party, they had these saint’s cards. They have them upside down and they pick one, and you’re supposed to pray to that saint for the rest of the year. I couldn’t go to the party so my friend said, “I’ll get you a card.” So she got me one, she gets home, and I say, “Who’d I get?” She looked at it and it was St. Bernardine of Siena – and I had no idea who that was at the time. I went and looked him up on the Internet and he’s the patron saint of public speaking (laughs). So I said, “Fine God, fine!” and I gave in and started doing it.
TR: Did those topics interest you throughout your life or did you learn about them the hard way by doing the opposite for a while?
Jessica Rey: I wasn’t doing the opposite to an extreme but I definitely didn’t understand fully chastity and definitely not modesty, especially having been in Hollywood for a while. I had a stylist who would dress me in these crazy outfits and I would walk down the red carpet thinking I was all that. I really wasn’t (laughs). So thankfully I learned about it fully before I really got into some bad stuff. But I grew up Catholic and always kind of knew. I just didn’t fully understand it. I learned about it from some people that I met in Hollywood. We actually had a group called “Holywood” and we would do a lot of formation, lots of different talks, Theology of the Body type stuff. So that’s how I fully learned about it.
TR: How do you make the concepts of chastity and modesty appealing to young people when you’ve got so many cultural forces promoting the opposite?
Jessica Rey: I think it’s really important that the people who give these talks are themselves younger and…they’re hipper and with the times. You know, (kids are) not really going to listen to it if it’s from their parents. Most kids don’t, sadly, so it does help that I’m younger, it helps that I’ve been on TV and kids think that’s really cool…And it’s crazy because I was just a Power Ranger (laughs)! I’m not an a-list celebrity that has been in a ton of blockbuster films. But they still think it’s cool that someone in Hollywood is living this life.
TR: One commenter said about one of your talks, “Jessica was very effective with young people because she doesn’t back down from tough content or the truth they need to hear.” Do you think parents or even the church water down the truth too much sometimes?
Jessica Rey: Oh yeah (laughs). It’s hard for parents especially if they themselves aren’t living a life of chastity…and then they’re trying to push this down their kids’ throats – and the kids are thinking, “Why should I do this? You’re not.” And other times parents are just kind of embarrassed to talk about it. I would say the same thing about church. Especially in say, my confirmation classes, I never learned about this stuff…Now I go out and give these talks, I’ll go into these confirmation classes because the confirmation teachers don’t want to talk about it. It’s embarrassing, it’s difficult so they would much rather bring someone else in.
TR: So what should churches be doing better to reach out to young people?
Jessica Rey: My friends and I are actually starting – and I know that these exist throughout the country – but we’re going to be starting up some fashion shows here in Southern California. And the fashion show again is this cool thing that the girls want to be a part of. But it’s (also) going to be six weeks of formation on what it means to be a woman, how a man should treat you, we’re going to talk about courtship, modesty and dress, and just all of (those things) they’re not really getting.
TR: Even the way you’re talking about it now, you’re gearing it a lot towards girls. I remember a female friend of mine once complaining that whenever she hears talk about chastity, it’s generally geared toward women and making it their responsibility. She was annoyed that the guys were essentially let off the hook. So what’s your take? Do you let my gender off the hook?
Jessica Rey: Oh no (laughs), I don’t. I talk with priests about this all the time but there is a crisis in manhood…I have a ton of single girlfriends who are drop-dead gorgeous, they’re well-formed Catholics, smart, intelligent, funny women who are like Betty Crocker (laughs). They would make great wives, great mothers – and there are no men. And (these girls) are not going to settle…So there definitely is a crisis in manhood. I heard about something called The Kingsmen. It’s a group that goes around and they really try to ingrain in these men’s heads that there is a crisis and they need to step up to the plate. I mean, I have a lot of guy friends who are older…They’re not discerning religious life and they’re not discerning marriage. They’re just happy as they are. And I think that’s a problem.
(To hear Jessica Rey discuss her own road to marriage, why she thinks her husband is destined for sainthood, and why she’s created a new swimwear line for women who prefer modest dress, download the podcast at www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)